The Line, by J.D. Horn (47 North, February 1, 2014)

Reviewed by Rich Magahiz

The LineA love charm gone both right and wrong, a murder of the key member of a magical family, decades-old secrets and resentments brought to light, and a world-changing talent restored— mix these all up and put them in a setting steeped in centuries of history and you would have something approximating this debut novel by J. D. Horn.

Mercy Taylor is the unmagical “disappointment” of a powerful family in Savannah tasked with intervening magically for the benefit of humanity, maintaining the “Line” of the title. Like a more typical 20-year-old girl, her main concerns at the beginning of the story are more mundane: gaining some respect for who she is, finding love and a family of her own, and escaping the overbearing influence of her intimidating great-aunt. The boy she’s obsessed with belongs to her beautiful and powerful twin sister Maisie, which one might expect to lead to a certain amount of resentment, but not in Mercy’s case. Instead, her inclination is to make peace, even turning to the outlaw sorceress Mother Jilo for an illicit love charm that would deflect her affections away from that young man. But just at the time of her foray, the shocking murder of the Taylor family matriarch takes place. Was it by coincidence? Or was it connected with what Mercy had done in some awful way? As she pieces together fragments of information surrounding these mysteries, she finds herself in places she had never imagined and exercising powers she had always been denied. 

The pace is fast with new puzzles, lies, and betrayals following hard on the conclusion of the preceding ones, particularly in the last few dozen pages. There is a full cast of characters, magical and otherwise, provided with a range of motivations to consider. The depictions of the kind of magic this world contains mostly avoided the stock tropes of fantasy.

For me, the best parts of the book were when Mercy and Mother Jilo are at odds face to face. They are poles apart, both magically and socio-economically, and it turns up in their dialogue:

“Maybe Jilo killed the old woman, and maybe she in’t. What you willing to sacrifice to find out?” she asked, the cat on her lap stretching and licking its phantom limb. “I’ve seen you going around town, telling your lies for money. You charge for lies. Jilo gonna charge you for the truth.”

Especially vivid are the scenes between the two of them beneath the real-life Candler Hospital in Savannah which has a spooky legacy of its own going back before the Civil War.

Mercy believes one set of facts about who her main antagonist is at the beginning of the book and about her own place in the grand scheme of things but comes to believe a quite different set of things by the end. Self-discovery comes at a cost, but the heroine seems up to the challenge of taking on a new set of roles. Though the central mystery is solved by then, a great many other hooks have come up to provide plenty of opportunity to continue the tale in future installments of the Witching Savannah series the author has planned.

Rich Magahiz is a contributing editor of LitChat. Read more about him here.